Dance as a Language

A model program for integrating dance and social studies
one student does a cartwheel hair and legs flying, while two other students dance behind

By working and thinking as choreographers...

Students develop skills in collaboration and both creative and critical thinking. These skills are useful for dance, academic work, and life and deepen their understanding of Social Studies content and dance to communicate.


  • a student leaps over two others

    Students Learn

    To use dance as a language and to choreograph stories based on themes from their Social Studies curriculum
  • Students Learn

    To observe dance closely, to describe, analyze and interpret what they see.
  • Utilizing Skills

    Students use these skills to offer each other useful feedback as they develop their choreography, and become increasingly independent in setting goals for their own rehearsals.


Learning the Alphabet: Weeks 1-8

In the first weeks, class sessions have three components: each activity cultivates different skills and experiences of movement language that students will draw upon to choreograph.

  • The Warmup: Learning the Alphabet

    The warmup introduces a wide variety of movement concepts. Students spend half the class building body knowledge, with opportunities to name, analyze and describe movement.
    Learning Choreography: Observation and Description in dance

    The artists are training students to be specific in their movement choices, and to notice the many elements that come into play to create a movement phrase. The students are building language skills of observation and description they will need to provide useful feedback to peers later in the residency.

    Visualizing and Reflecting: Improvisation in Dance

    In weekly improvisation work, students learn a structured artistic process through which they imagine, improvise, reflect and improvise again. Improvisation gives the students the experience of creating and exploring new movement language freely and incorporating new ideas from their peers.


Choreography Live in the Neighborhood

Before they start to choreograph, students visit Rod Rodgers Dance Studio, to see a professional company perform choreography “close enough to hear the dancer’s breathing”, and has a chance to ask questions.


    Performance Excerpts

    Featuring teacher Nami Kagami solo

    Performance Excerpts

    Featuring male dancers duet
    Post Performance Workshops

    Afterwards, students take workshops from the company dancers. In the workshops the students learn a piece of the choreography they saw those dancers perform.


Dancing the Language: Creating Choreography

Starting week 9, the class begins to choreograph. Most of the class is spent working in their choreography groups, sharing their work with the class and receiving feedback from peers.


    Dancing Social Studies

    This video looks at how Maya’s class learned to choreograph movement stories from their yearlong study of global water scarcity.

    Building collaboration through Peer Feedback

    Structuring a successful feedback session, starts by teaching students to give feedback that is strength-oriented and specific.
    Learning to choreograph student directed rehearsal

    “Students didn’t need adult direction to ready their pieces for performance after five weeks of a peer feedback rehearsal process”– 4/5th grade teacher.


Additional Resources

    Clarifying Stories Dance outlines in the classroom

    Through a lesson taught by a literacy coach halfway through the residency you can see how connections are made to classroom work on story, and how students and teachers recognize that dance is a different kind of storytelling.

    The Show Must Go On: Rising to the Occasion

    Courage and flexibility are required of student performers when only half of their classmates are present for the final performance, due to the legendary February 2014 snowstorm. The nature of performance and its unique learning opportunities are highlighted.


Developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Education

In partnership between ArtsConnection teaching artists Kim Grier and Nami Kagami and the teachers and principal at the Earth School, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC, in 2014.